The Supreme Court, on Monday, held that the sentence of Life Imprisonment on Abu Salem, Gangster and 1993 Bombay serial blasts convict has to be remitted after he has served 25 years in prison, in keeping with the sovereign assurance given by the Government of India to Portugal from where he was extradited.
Salem is currently serving multiple life sentences in separate cases. In the first case related to the murder of one Pradeep Jain over the non-payment of money in a civil dispute, on March 7, 1995. He was charged under various sections of IPC, Ams Act, and Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).
A designated TADA court in Mumbai declared him a proclaimed offender after the blasts on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai. Later, a non-bailable warrant was issued against him. The Interpol also issued a Red Corner notice for his arrest on September 18, 2002. In 2017, the special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court convicted Salem and five others for the blasts that killed 257 people and injured 713. While Salem and Karimullah Khan were sentenced to life imprisonment, the TADA court sentenced Taher Merchant and Feroz Abdul Rashid Khan to death.
Though Salem was convicted under various provisions under the TADA Act, Explosives Act, 1884 and Arms Act, 1959, among others, he cannot be charged with the death penalty or serve a sentence of over 25 years under an extradition treaty signed between India and Portugal.
EXTRADITION REQUEST AND ASSURANCE
In September 18, 2002, Abu Salem and his companion, actress Monica Bedi, are arrested in Lisbon.
The Government of India on December 13, 2002, through the then Minister of State for External Affairs Omar Abdullah, submitted a requisition for Salem’s extradition in nine criminal cases relying on the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and on an assurance of reciprocity as applicable in international law.
On December 17, 2002, India makes a solemn assurance to the Government of Portugal that Salem will not be put to death or face imprisonment for a period beyond 25 years.
Again on May 25, 2003, the solemn assurance is reiterated by way of supplementary assurance by the Ambassador of India to the Government of Portugal with a further assurance that the appellant will not be prosecuted for offences other than those for which his extradition has been sought.
The Ministry of Justice of Portugal by an order dated March 28, 2003, allowed Salm’s extradition, but only for some of the offences in the GOI request. The Supreme Court of Portugal confirmed the order of the Court of Appeal, Lisbon on January 27, in view of the assurance given by GOI that Salem would not be visited with death penalty or imprisonment for a term beyond 25 years.
SUPREME COURT’S JULY 11 RULING
The Apex court said the Central Government is bound to advise the President of India for exercise of powers under Article 72 of the Constitution of India and to release the appellant in terms of the national commitment as well as the principle based on the comity of court after the 25 years of sentence is completed. The Bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh directed that the Union Government is to place the necessary documents before the President within one month of completion of 25 years. The Bench also observed that the Central Government can itself consider remission in the said one month period upon completion of 25 years, in terms of Sections 432 and 433 of the Crpc.
The court also rejected his prayer that the period spent in jail in Portugal from September 18, 2002 – when Salem who entered he was arrested following a Red Corner Notice – to December 10, 2005 when he was handed over to Indian authorities, be set off from the remainder of his sentence in India.
The Supreme court observed that, under the doctrine of separation of powers, the courts in the country cannot restrict or commute the period of sentence. the Apex Court also held that it can still opine on India’s compliance with its commitment to end Salem’s imprisonment after 25 years.